Accounting and reporting practices of churches: an empirical study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

In the last decade the accounting profession has shown increased interest in accounting for nonprofit organizations including accounting for churches. Statement of Position 78-10 and Statement of Financial Accounting Concepts No. 4 provide standards and objectives for church financial reporting. Although accounting standards have been determined for churches, there is little information about the current accounting and reporting practices followed by churches. This research determines the actual accounting principles and reporting practices used by the group of churches whose business administrators belong to the National Association of Church Business Administrators (NACBA). The NACBA is national in scope and represents larger churches from many denominations. Secondly, the research determines the potential impact of the Statement of Position (SOP) on church accounting and reporting practices.

Data measuring the churches' compliance with principles recommended in the SOP and NACBA members' attitudes toward the principles are gathered using a mail questionnaire. The compliance questions are answered by checking yes, no, or not applicable. The attitude responses are indicated on a Likert scale measuring degree of favor from 0 to 4. The questionnaire also includes demographic information about the churches and items of general interest about the type of financial reports they present.

After appropriate pretesting, the questionnaire was sent to the NACBA members currently employed by a local congregation. The mailing and follow-up procedures resulted in a 64% response rate. The questionnaire was sent to a population rather than a sample, therefore, inferential statistics are not used to analyze the responses.

Compliance percentages and average attitude response scores are presented for all responding NACBA members and their churches. Additional analysis provides profiles of compliance rates and attitude response scores for three groupings - denomination, size, and audit classification. In general, the analysis shows that the group of large churches and the group of churches whose financial statements are externally audited are most likely to be in compliance with recommended principles. These same groups express the most favorable attitudes toward the recommended principles.